Remember the days people admire staying at home, they wish a sit and relax all day inside. Pandemic changed this desire for many people. The restrictions due to COVID-19 increased the mental distress and decreased physical activity of people worldwide. Staying home must help to maintain a regular exercise program, but it is on the contrary. Scientists showed that depression and anxiety symptoms increased during people’s-controlled exercise quitting periods in their studies.
To understand why and how physical activity has changed caused by the pandemic impacted mental health, scientists led by Professor Jennifer Heisz, with her colleagues Dr. Michelle Ogrodnik, Emma Nicholson, Maryam Yvonne Marashi from McMaster University, and Dr. Barbara Fenesi from Western University used an online survey with 1669 participants. Their research was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Professor Heisz and colleagues found that participants reported higher psychological stress and moderate levels of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic, which is not a surprise for anyone. At the same time, the pandemic made it more difficult for them to be dynamic. While aerobic activity and strength-based training decreased, their idle times increased. People whose mental health deteriorated had more significant reductions in physical activity since COVID-19 than those who experienced better or no change. According to survey results, the younger respondents seemed to be more impacted by the pandemic’s psychological effects, especially self-isolation and job loss.
Researchers sought to identify the barriers to being physically active and lack of time was the most common reason before the pandemic. Since the onset of COVID-19, lack of motivation seems to be a perceived barrier for the people. Participants reported being less motivated to be physically active for weight loss, enjoyment, or social engagement. On the other hand, participants reported being more motivated to be physically active for stress reduction, anxiety relief.
Professor Heisz notes that people wanted to be physically active to improve their mental health, but they found it difficult to exercise due to anxiety and stress. Another fundamental reason for decreased physical activity is the mandatory closure of gyms and other recreational training facilities. This situation forced people to do everything at home, but every house is not equipped to support their physical activity needs.
In summary, the study findings emphasized the importance of physical activity in mental health and identified the perceived barriers and motivating factors for exercising during the pandemic. Although people are encouraged to be physically active, especially for their mental health, they may be anxious or depressed to exercise during stressful times such as the COVID-19 process.

Journal Reference

Marashi, M. Y., Nicholson, E., Ogrodnik, M., Fenesi, B., & Heisz, J. J. (2021). A mental health paradox: Mental health was both a motivator and barrier to physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic PloS one16(4), e0239244.

Main image credit: Jose Luis Navarro